Some call it a cult, others call it the new wave way to reach high schoolers for Christ, some believe it's a waste of time. I am writing this node to set the record straight.

YL's goal is to give every high schooler a chance to meet Christ. They do this by going to where the kids are. College students and some adults will sacrifice their time to go to high schools and hang outs to meet kids. By doing this, they are building relationships with high schoolers. The goal of YL is not to beat kids over the head with a Bible, but to put it out there for them to take it or leave it. YL is not a church group. YL is focused on building relationships with kids and instead of pressuring them into becoming Christians, the leaders simply let the kids see how God is in their lives and let the kids make their own decisions.

YL has a program once a week called "club". Club is a place where kids can come together to have a good time. The meeting usually starts off with some high intensity songs. These songs can are usually secular, but at the same time relay a positive message. After the songs, there is a skit, where a leader usually does something wacky or funny and is then followed by two more lower key songs. Another skit may follow those songs, and then two praise and worship songs are sung. All of these things are slowly pointing towards the ten minute talk. This is the ultimate goal of the night. One of the leaders, usually a college student, will get up and talk about a story in the Bible and how it pertains to their life. All the things that happen at club are designed to bring the kids closer to the leaders. Whether its the kids singing along, watching the leaders making themselves fools for Christ, or learning more about the leader and their beliefs during the ten minute talk. All of these things serve a purpose.

Another big YL event is camp. This usually takes place for a week during the summer. YL camps are everywhere, but they originated in Colorado. During camp, the kids are given the perfect arena to either begin or further their relationship with Christ. YL camps have ropes courses, rock climbing towers, zip lines, mountian biking, [horseback riding[, lots of wilderness, and of course swimming pools, a lake, and hot tubs. The kids are encouraged to do these things with leaders. By spending time together, the kids are learning to trust the leaders. During the day, there are also three meetings for club. An assigned staff of YL employees are assigned to do skits, talks, or music. The food at YL camps is also very good, and the boarding is awesome.

YL is able to keep the cost of camp down because the people who work there are volunteers. Some YL kids decide that they want to go work at a YL camp for a month. This is called "work crew" . The work crew work by cooking food, washing dishes, or serving food to the kids, like waitresses and waitors. Other jobs the work crew does is Out Door Crew (ODC) where they keep the camp grounds clean and trimmed or as a Tawashie, which is cleaning the linens and washing bathrooms. Although work crew gets some of the hardest jobs on camp, without them, YL camps wouldn't be able to run. The chemistry that forms between a work crew is amazing. When the kids return home, they are ready to go back for more. Once one has been on work crew, they will never be the same because they have seen God in such an intense way.

Many college students are also needed to run a YL camp. These kids are called "Summer Staff" The summer staff is used to run the ropes course, climbing towers, zip lines, be life guards, and work in the snack shop. Like the work crew, they work hard and once they've done summer staff, they will never be the same.

The most important aspect of camp, in many ways, is the summer staff and work crew. The kids see how these people give up their time to work for them. The campers also see how much the work crew and summer staff love eachother. By giving up their summers to work, the kids see Gods love through these workers.

YL is an incredable ministry for young people. No other ministry gets to kids like YL does. No wonder YL has been called a cult. YL is such an affective ministry, that once someone is hooked into YL, they believe in it so strongly that they want to be a part of leading others to Christ as well. YL has formed a huge network of people all linked together for a common goal: to love kids.


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First a little background information. I am not in any way opposed to groups whose intent is to inform and teach. The following is simply an isolated observation and should not be taken as an opinion of any situation aside from the one being described. This is nothing more than a cautionary tale.

I am rather familiar with the Young Life concept and its manifestations. I grew up in the southeastern United States and therefore have been exposed to several strong religious traditions. I agree with Mer. Young Life is in no way a cult. In fact, now that I am in college, I have come in contact with an actual cult and have a better understanding of cults than I ever had in high school. The concept behind Young Life is very appealing to me. Any group who can successfully bring together high school age kids and teach them something is aces in my book. However, I would like to offer this observation as a warning to all those teenagers out there that are thinking of joining something of this nature.

The Young Life program at my high school was fairly large and consisted of most of the "Popular" kids. It seemed like a lot of fun and being one of the more "Popular" kids myself I thought I would give it a try. One of the first things that I mentioned to the sponsors of the club was that I was not a person with very strong religious conviction. They assured me that it wasn't a problem and that Young Life wasn't about specific religions it was about learning and community. Feeling reassured, I signed up.

The first couple of meetings I went to were nothing extraordinary. We sat around and discussed topics in the Bible the best that any teenager can. This was all led by some adults and college students who used to go to this same high school. Everything seemed fine. Soon I found out the true nature of the Young Life at my high school. It seems that the meetings were more or less a facade. The purpose of the meetings was to convince the school that Young Life was a good program so that they could receive money from the administration. This money was in turn used for the "retreats". My initial reaction was excitement. Retreats are always fun!

It seems these retreats were a little different from the kind of retreats I had been on. Don't get me wrong, I realize that teenagers are naturally mischevious and are bound to get into trouble here and there. However, these retreats were used as an excuse for these so called popular kids to go out to the woods, get drunk and stoned and basically have sex with anything that moved. I realize that doesn't sound so bad to most of us. This might even be the description of your last weekend. My problem lies in the fact that these kids were getting funding for this when at the same time our library was sparse and our art and music programs were on the verge of being cancelled.

As I said before, I like the idea of Young Life. But students should pay close attention to what the groups at their schools engage in and for God's sake, speak up if you feel the school is spending your parent's money wrong.

Posted anonymously by a former Young Life member.

Young Life is not a cult. It doesn't have a central leader with very much control over the whole. I do think think that it can lead to cults among the individually run areas, though. Every area has an area director, and in the Young Life that I was in, that area director had a number of similarities to a cult leader. I also think you have to realize that you are dealing with high school students here. That lowers the standard in my opinion for what amount of deception and force are required to consider something a cult. From a Young Life flyer:

We meet young people where they hang out: the streets, school events, shopping malls and fast-food restaurants. We get to know their names, what they enjoy and dislike and what concerns and confuses them. We help kids deal with the stresses and temptations of adolescence, providing them with wholesome fun, positive adult role models and constructive choices. After we've become friends and win the right to be heard, we share with them the good news of Christ in language they understand.

Just as in any cult, Young Life consists of progressive stages of involvement, each one a bait and switch of sorts, where you are led to believe that you are getting into one thing, but are actually getting into something much deeper. They never use direct force, merely deception and threats (of hell), like any good con-artist. The stages are described by Young Life as Contact, Club, Camp, and Campaigners.

The whole indoctrination proceeds very much like that of the Unification Church, as described by Christopher Edwards in his book Crazy for God:

{The members} entered into the singing with tremendous enthusiasm, while most of the guests, like myself, sat silently and watched. There was something about the entertainment that seemed very carefully orchestrated, even the way the well-scrubbed audience was clapping riotously to the music. As I clapped politely to the singing, I looked around me.

The songs at "club" are very carefully orchestrated, and there is a specific song book which they are all to be chosen from, but many of them have no positive message other than to follow the leader. A good example would be Baby What You Want Me To Do, by Jimmy Reed, a favorite at the Young Life I went to:

You got me running, you got me hiding
You got me run, hide, hide, run
Anywhere you want me, let it roll, yeah, yeah, yeah
You got me doing what you want me
Baby what you want me to do

Heightened emotions, submissive lyrics, simultaneous clapping (anyone who clapped even somewhat off-beat was always admonished). If your purpose is to teach the truth, shouldn't the truth speak for itself? From

4. Background music always draws in kids more. Loud and rockin’ helps. Also, leaders, student leaders, and campaigner kids must scream and cheer for everything. One of the greatest things we can do for a kid is to get a bunch of their schoolmates cheering wildly for them. For most it would be a first and possibly a last at this experience. Get people to cheer!

Reading made me sick to my stomach. "Sell camps year-round...Hard sell starts 5 months prior to summer". "Always ask 'If you were going, who would you like to have come along? Let's get in touch and see if we can't get them psyched and get a bunch of you going.' (Record new names on your list including phone #s and addresses.)" "Get the deposit as soon as possible. If possible, go to the house and pick it up." "Have a non-refundable deposit after a certain date." "Kids can't make a commitment while they're in a group. Lay some generalities on them (to psych) but don't press for a commitment from individuals. For commitment, talk to {k}ids individually (following steps G&H)"

For kids you don't know - "Hi, this is __________. I help out with Young Life in the area. The reason I'm calling is I was just talking with ________ about Windy Gap, a resort where we take kids each summer. _________ is real interested in going (or is going) and he told me to tell you about it. Have you heard anything about Windy Gap? It's a great place! Have you got a minute for me to tell you a little more about it?"

That's a bold-faced lie! The reason you're calling is that you were just talking with ___? You're planning that ahead of time? No, the reason you're calling is because you think the kids going to go to hell and you think if you can get him to camp then you can preach to him and "save" him. "he told me to tell you about it"? Not only an appeal to peer-pressure, but a lie! Honestly, I am sick to my stomach right now.

BUT, also, you will multiply by 2, 4, or as much as 10 times the number of kids who will go. AND, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have followed the Lord's commands as outlined in the beginning.

Like any other cult, using the Bible to encourage people to commit a sin (in this case, deception and false witness). Apparently one of the Lord's commands is "Thou shalt get kids to go to Windy Gap" now.

Many of the Young Life leaders I've talked are completely candid about the deception they practice. One of the principles of Young Life established by the founder James Rayburn is to "Capitalize on the elements of good humor and music to establish an openness of mind and heart." Another is to "Communicate your enthusiasms and certainties, rather than flaunt your doubts." What these leaders have told me is that they are fighting a battle against drug dealers who hook kids in by offering lighter drugs first, for free, and then gradually sucking them in in a similar bait and switch fashion (my words, not theirs). Why, they ask, shouldn't they fight back in the same way?

The answer to this question I'm not going to argue. I don't believe that it is ever a good thing to trick people into believing something, no matter how good you think that thing is. But the fact is, Young Life does not merely teach Christianity, or the Bible, or universally accepted positive values. They teach their own twisted interpretation of things.

A born-again Christian group, YL teaches kids that most of their parents, their friends, their teachers, most people in the world are wrong and are going to burn in hell. They teach things with absolutely no biblical basis, such as when one leader said during a club meeting that "Christ's spirit went to hell when he died" and that "When Christ was in hell he preached to demons." He went on to say that "Christ went where we should go" and that is why "we feel bad about ourselves." A Young Life area leader said this at a club meeting:

Jesus is the most misunderstood person who ever lived... By far our society is clueless, they have no idea who this man is. None, zero, they have this much {holding fingers up to indicate very little} information and I would bet it's wrong.

And that statement of seeming fact was accepted by most of those who were there. The flaw of Young Life is the deception, and the potential for harm is that the leader's interpretations of Christianity become accepted as the truth. The leader may be right, but if so, the truth should be allowed to speak for itself.

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